Taking the LEAP

By Dimistris Kiritsis

Information technology is critical to the future of manufacturing. The EU LinkedDesign project aims to help manufacturers harness and use information.

Without a doubt, manufacturing remains vitally important for the world economy. It is estimated that before the latest economic crisis in the European Union, the manufacturing sector contributed some 17.1 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) and accounted for some 22 million jobs. When you combine manufacturing with sectors that are directly related to it, such as transportation, the contribution to the GDP is estimated to be about 47 percent.

The economic crisis of 2008 hit the manufacturing industry hard. Output decreased by around 20 percent. At the same time, global competition has increased dramatically. This has put a lot of pressure on manufacturers. Moreover, we are seeing new trends and paradigms, such as sustainable manufacturing and mass customization. Consequently, the manufacturing industry is facing significant structural changes.

The key enabler for coping with these changes will be information and computer technologies (ICT), due to their strong impact on innovation and productivity. The current ICT landscape in manufacturing is characterized by scattered data formats, tools and processes dedicated to different phases in the product lifecycle.

For example, in the concept phase of a product, companies typically use common tools, such as Microsoft PowerPoint. Later on, companies turn to specialized software, such as computer-aided design solutions, product lifecylce management, enterprise resource planning systems and so on.

Moreover, the flow of information is closely aligned to the product lifecycle—that is, information from the design phase goes into the manufacturing phase. But data flows in the opposite direction as well. User feedback is often incorporated into a product's design. At present, a manufacturer's understanding of a user's needs can be enriched with live "field" data generated by so-called product embedded information devices (PEID), such as sensors and radio frequency identification transponders.

Due to the diversity of tools and data formats, many manufacturers are struggling to cope. For example, both the trend toward mass customization and the demand for increased sustainability require a tight integration of the design, manufacturing and usage phases of a product, which is currently not in place.

The rise of Web 2.0 leads to precious information, manifested in Web 2.0 channels such as blogs and forums, created directly by prospective or existing users of a given product. But this sort of information is far from having any real impact on a product's design or manufacturing phase.

What's clearly missing in the current ICT landscape for manufacturing is an integrated, holistic view of data, persons and processes across the full product lifecycle. As experiences of the past show, a tight integration of all tools used throughout a product's lifetime is not feasible. For this reason, the European Union LinkedDesign project (EU FP7 FoF project 284613) has developed a Linked Engineering and Manufacturing Platform (LEAP) for manufacturing to address the current shortcomings.

The aims of LinkedDesign, in a nutshell, can be described as follows:

Data federation: LEAP federates all relevant information across trusted sources throughout a product's lifecycle, independent of its format, location and origination time.

Context-driven access and analysis of federated information: Besides unified access to the integrated information, LEAP provides specific means to analyze this data.

User collaboration: LEAP is user-centric rather than information-centric. To foster collaboration between users across different disciplines, LEAP will use and extend lean-engineering principles and implement a collaboration workbench enabling effective internal and external collaboration.

Feedback into existing systems: In addition to pulling data from existing data sources and systems, including sensors and RFID, LEAP provides tight connections to the federated systems (CAx, for example), in order to push back enriched information to them.

The book Taking the LEAP, which I edited, provides a complete and detailed view of the main results of the LinkedDesign project, which have been integrated in the Linked Engineering and Manufacturing Platform. The book's aim is to present to the Industry 4-0 community the results of the LinkedDesign project. The content is based on the project's main technical deliverables (see a description of each chapter on the following page). If you are interested in learning about the Linked Engineering and Manufacturing Platform, you can buy the book on Amazon.

Dimitris Kiritsis is a professor of ICT in sustainable manufacturing at the Institute of Mechanical Engineering at EPFL, in Switzerland. He is the Chair of IFIP Working Group 5.7 Advances in Production Management Systems and a board member of Manufacture-CH, and was a member of the recently concluded EU-funded LinkedDesign project. His research interests include closed-loop lifecycle management, lifecycle performance evaluation and product-process modeling.

Taking the LEAP

• Chapter 1 provides an introduction to the main concepts of the LinkedDesign approach and the main elements of LEAP.

• Chapter 2, "LEAP data and knowledge integration infrastructure," by Eric Peukert and Christian Wartner, introduces LEAP's data and knowledge integration infrastructure.

• Chapter 3, "LEAP semantics," by Soumaya El Kadiri, Ana Milicic, Kostas Pardalis and Eric Peukert, proposes the LEAP semantic model, based on the design of an upper ontology describing the LEAP domain and its specialization to three industrial use cases: Volkswagen, COMAU and Aker Solutions.

• Chapter 4, "LEAP product and manufacturing design support system," by Daniele Cerri and Sergio Terzi, presents the development of the so-called "LEAP model for design support" and the life-cycle costing (LCC) and life-cycle assessment (LCA) methodologies as they have been used in the COMAU use case.

• Chapter 5, "LEAP Collaboration System," by Kjetil Kristensen, John Krogstie, Dirk Ahlers and Mahsa Mehrpoor, presents the models, concepts, elements and technology components that—when combined and structured in a meaningful way to teams of end users—enable companies to execute split location engineering projects in a way that represents a competitive advantage.

• Chapter 6, "LEAP Interoperability standards," by Kary Främling, Andrea Buda, Sylvain Kubler, Jacopo Cassina, Eva Coscia, Simone Parrotta, Sergio Terzi and Daniele Cerri, presents interoperability standards developed for this purpose, published by The Open Group: Open Messaging Interface (O-MI) and Open Data Format (O-DF). This chapter describes the design principles and provides a description of the standards, including implementation principles and examples of real-life implementations.

• Chapter 7, "LEAP Virtual Obeya," by Monica Rossi, Matteo Cocco, SergioTerzi, Kjetil Kristensen, Simone Parrotta, John Krogstie and Dirk Ahlers, presents the LEAP Virtual Obeya, a flexible concept that incorporates lean thinking and enables new visual project-management approaches in teams engaged in specific processes, such as innovation and engineering design. It offers enhanced support for specific tasks, including problem solving, decision making, co-editing, and issue or task management.

• Chapter 8, "LEAP use cases," by Ana Milicic, Soumaya El Kadiri, Fernando Perales, Simone Parotta and Geir Iversen, describes several LinkedDesign use cases and explains how the LEAP platform is being exploited for given tasks.